This is quite simply the strangest, most provocative, beguiling and fascinating book I’ve read in a long time. In fact, EVER. SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives does exactly what it claims. It’s about death – and what happens after death. In just 100 pages, we’re offered 40 versions – parallel universes, parallel narratives, parallel afterlives. It has the wit and deep ingenuity of a Douglas Adams (every now and then, I was reminded of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe), a relentless logic and above all a fearless creativity. It is certainly not derivative (even if the odd one of these tales evokes some sort of precedent) and crams an extraordinary diversity into a very small space. A bit like the Tardis I suppose. It’scaptured the imagination of countless people – and perhaps inevitably, when Stephen Fry twittered approvingly, amazon sales went through the roof (and as a direct result, Radio 4’s Today programme did a piece on it).
David Eagleman is an American neuroscientist who studied literature as an undergraduate. A powerful and unusual combination – I guess that makes him a scientist who is as articulate with words as he is with equations (which you don’t find very often in my limited experience). He crashes up against the walls of human creativity and imagination – and that’s one of the most fascinating things about. Because in the end, it seems that one of his principle reasons for cynicism about orthodox convictions about eternity is that it is impossible to imagine.
Anyway, read it! I thoroughly recommend it if you’re after something short but mind-bogglingly mind-bending.
If you want a bit more of an in-depth reflection, then check out the article I’ve just written for Damaris: